Has your heart broken over the lives lost in Aleppo? Have you mourned over the tragic deaths of black men and women and police officers in our country? Have you listened to the stories and experiences of those who feel marginalized and oppressed?
The summer after my freshman year of college, I spent 11 months living and serving in a local church in Chicago. I taught adult literacy classes and volunteered with an after-school program at the local library. For the first time in my life, I was the minority. Prior to that year, I thought everyone had equal opportunity in life if they just worked hard. I didn’t understand the disparities between suburban schools and inner city schools. I didn’t understand why everyone didn’t trust police officers. I didn’t realize how difficult and uncomfortable public transportation could be. As I listened, observed, and learned from my new friends, I realized I had so much more to learn.
That journey of learning continues.
But to be honest, it’s hard sometimes. It can be so much easier to organize around comfort and security and not take the time to try to step into someone else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. It can be confusing when it isn’t what you or I have experienced. It can be overwhelming.
I continue circling back to God’s call to love my neighbors. My neighbors aren’t only the people who shop where I do, look like me, send their kids to the same school to which I send mine, share the same political affiliation, or even attend the same church—at least not according to Scripture.
Jesus shared the parable of the Good Samaritan to teach us who we should consider our neighbors and what it means to love them. Tim Keller shared the following in Generous Justice:
What was Jesus doing with this story? He was giving a radical answer to the question, What does it mean to love your neighbor? What is the definition of “love”? Jesus answered that by depicting a man meeting material, physical, and economic needs through deeds. Caring for people’s material and economic needs is not an option for Jesus… He said it means being sacrificially involved with the vulnerable, just as the Samaritan risked his life by stopping on the road. But Jesus refuses to let us limit not only how we love, but who we love. It is typical for us to think of our neighbors as people of the same social class and means (cf. Luke 14:12). We instinctively tend to limit for whom we exert ourselves. We do it for people like us, and for people whom we like. Jesus will have none of that. By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need—regardless of race, politics, class, and religion is your neighbor. Not everyone is your brother or sister in the faith, but everyone is your neighbor, and you must love your neighbor. (Keller, 2010, p.67-68) [emphasis added]
When training to become a counselor, my fellow classmates and I learned and practiced active listening skills. This can be a helpful starting place for all of us as we continue this journey of learning to love others who may be different than us. Active listening involves asking questions, reflecting, summarizing, etc. all for the purpose of seeking to truly understand the other and his or her experiences. You try to enter into the world of another, not dismiss or diminish their beliefs, perspectives, or experiences.
Listening is an outward sign of inward love and humility. It isn’t easy and can be uncomfortable and disruptive, but that’s OK.
If you find yourself in a place of not being willing to listen, ask yourself why not. God extends enough grace to wrestle through what’s going on at the heart level for you. A starting place might be consistent prayer asking God to help you see the world and others like He does.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 16, at 6:30 p.m., Greater Shiloh Church will host an event with the theme “Dr. King: Dream Come True, or a Dream Deferred?” The evening will include a speech rendition from a young man in the church, a performance by the Temple Covenant of Peace Youth Choir, remarks from dignitaries, and a panel discussion. This event is an opportunity to take a practical next step in your journey of learning to love your neighbor, right here in Easton.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). May we be a people committed to loving one another across racial, political, denominational, and socioeconomic lines. And may we image God to a hurting, watching world by our love for God and our neighbor, even if that neighbor lives in another neighborhood, country, or practices another religion.
Keller, Tim. (2010). Generous Justice. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Written by Hannah Wildasin, MA